Pictured here are those residents of Evangeline Parish along with several UL-Lafayette students as they listen to a segment of the presentations. Among those from the parish who attended are Anita Fontenot, Renee Brown, Faye Lemoine, Rhonda and Frank Butler, Brian Ardoin, Nicole Wenger, Mark Suellentrop, Wyatt Savant, Dr. Gwen Fontenot, and Donald Bergeron. (Photo provided)
UL-L students outline plan to revitalize Ville Platte
After months of leg work, initial plans to revitalize Ville Platte were unleashed Wednesday during presentations held at Moody Hall on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
These presentations were conducted by several of Dr. Geoff Stewart’s Masters of Business Administration (MBA) students.
“This is just the beginning of a multi-semester project,” said Dr. Stewart. “This is special because it’s the first class that’s worked with Evangeline Parish and with Ville Platte. So, next semester, we’re going to take their work and build on top of it, and it’s only going to get better from here.”
Dr. Stewart and his students previously conducted a series of town hall meetings where they obtained data and input from the community. The students then used what they learned over the course of the town hall meetings and developed their plans during the past semester.
Over the course of the evening, six groups of students went over how they arrived at their conclusions by conducting situational analyses and strategy formulations. These steps then led to them identifying leverages, constraints, vulnerabilities, and problems.
The plans focus on the areas of industrial development, Main Street, and tourism in Evangeline Parish. Through segmentation, each area was broken down into two target markets.
The following is a rundown of each of the three areas:
This plan mainly entails reaching out to potential companies to locate to the shovel-ready certified site at the Industrial Park. “One of the main strengths Ville Platte has to offer is the certified site,” said MBA student Ben Como. “Almost 55 percent of companies find a shovel-ready site very important for site selection. The industries that are already there like Ville Platte Ironworks, Cameron, Cabot — they all complement each other. So finding and attracting industries that complement each other is a strength that can be capitalized on.”
In order to better attract new businesses, the plan calls for working with site selectors. These site selectors, according to the students, “have direct contact with businesses that need land, are motivated to find the best match for their client, have a structured outline for research, and have specialization which allows for in-depth industry knowledge and quicker turnaround time.”
The plan also involves working with nearby schools such as South Louisiana Community College Coreil Campus, LSU-A, and LSU-E to provide an increased workforce for companies already in Industrial Park as well as the ones looking to locate in the park.
While the city’s Main Street is currently identified by having abandoned buildings and a lack of aesthetic appeal, the students from UL-L identified ways to attract visitors to Main Street.
To do this, the students proposed turning a vacant lot along Main Street into a park where events such as farmer’s markets, community gardens, festivals, family picnics and reunions can be held. As the students explained, “The Main Street Park will appeal to outdoor-oriented residents by offering a local outdoor hotspot that can cater to a wide variety of events.”
The park would also provide a location for outdoor music events called “Dancing on Main Street.” These events would take place on Saturday evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Afterward, the people attending the events would be enticed to visit one of the restaurants or nightspots on Main Street such as Cafe Evangeline or Freddy’s Bar.
Along with this, the construction of a multi-use Cultural Center was proposed which would, according to the students, “appeal to local residents by providing experiences that their families and children can do together.”
This center could be used for Mardi Grad masquerade parties, Cajun Christmas events, and Cajun French Fridays.
Other plans for Main Street involve creating an Antique Extravaganza. The students explained this is valuable because of its “community involvement, cultural preservation, and economic prosperity.”
During the presentation, Ville Platte City Councilwoman Faye Lemoine told the students, “Personally, I like all of the ideas. I like the ideas of the dances and the antique extravaganza. Those are great ideas.”
Ville Platte business owner and President-elect of the Rotary Club Nicole Wenger also told the students, “All of the ideas are just wonderfully branded.”
As MBA student Allison Kidder explained during the presentation, “Together we undertook the challenge of investigating and exploring ways to promote tourism in Evangeline Parish. This was a really fun endeavor. We learned a lot of cool things about the area that we weren’t aware of before. One thing that became very clear is this is a place that people need to visit.”
To achieve the plan of getting people to visit Evangeline Parish, Kidder and her team proposed a plan which would capitalize on the growth of RV travel, outdoor activities, popularity of staycations, and social media.
This involves people who are staying in their RV at Chicot Park, Crooked Creek, or Lakeview to embark on a food trail which would take them to sausage and specialty meat destinations across the parish such as Teet’s and T-Boy’s.
The students explained, “The idea is to have people come in and travel along in their RV on this trail and pick up specialty items as they go along the way.”
This food trail would then grow into other tourism events such as bus tours and beer pairing contests.
Social media would then come into play with specific hashtags and marketing strategies such as “Park it, live it, never forget it,” “Renew your energy at Evangeline Parish,” and “Experience Cajun uniqueness.”
These strategies, according to the students, would “capitalize on the diverse natural assets such as parks, rivers, creeks, and fishing and hunting traditions; and capitalize on the Evangeline Parish culture uniqueness which includes, festivals, food, and music.”
After the presentation, several people from Evangeline Parish who attended gave some feedback on the students’ proposals.
Executive director of the Evangeline Chamber of Commerce Renee Brown called the presentations “enlightening, optimistic and filled with goals that are reachable.” She added, “It gave us a lot of hope and reminded us of the potential we have.”
“I think it’s a great start to developing our parish,” said Evangeline Parish Foundation board member Anita Fontenot, “and it’s giving a great amount of insight to our Foundation. Now we can collaborate with the Chamber and with the police jury. I just think it’s great networking.”
“It’s great what they are putting together like the meat trail,” said Evangeline Parish Police Jury Secretary-Treasurer Donald Bergeron. “We could do the same thing with all our recreational parks and put all of our resources together.”
To that point, Fontenot said, “If we can find the unique thing at each place and promote that, then that tour makes it worth while because the people are getting something different at each stop.”
Fellow Foundation board member Dr. Gwen Fontenot said the presentation far exceeded her expectations. “I knew what these projects were like because I’ve done a few,” she stated, “but from where we started and what we asked for to what they delivered is unbelievable.”